Tag Archives: tech

My review of “My Poems”, an Alexa Skill enabling the Amazon Echo user to listen to poetry

This review is of My Poems, an Alexa skill which can be enabled for the Amazon Echo, enabling the user to listen to poems, and “pin” their favourites for future easy access.

Back in 2018, I purchased and reviewed the Amazon Echo (Second Generation), https://kmorrispoet.com/2018/09/25/my-review-of-the-amazon-echo-second-generation/. The Echo is a versatile device controled by voice, enabling the user to do many things, including listen to music, enjoy audio books from audible.com and check the meaning of words/have them spelt. In addition the user can enable various skills, including the free My Poems app, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Opearlo-My-Poems/dp/B071D96QLW.

As mentioned at the start of this review, My Poems enables the user of an Amazon Echo to listen to poems and pin their Favourites for future easy access. In addition its possible to have a poem repeated and to skip through the poems.

I downloaded My Poems yesterday evening (30 October 2019), and I am enjoying using the app. All of the poems are recorded by actors and thus far I have been impressed by the quality of the readings.

Each time the user hears a poem Alexa gives him/her the opportunity to have it “pinned” to “Favourites”, or to hear another poem. I have already pinned a number of poems and have returned to listen back to them.

On the Amazon website it states that users can request that their poem is added to the My Poems. Whilst it is not entirely clear what this means, I suspect that the user can request that a poem composed by them be added to My Poems, rather than it being a means whereby he/she can ask that a poem (not yet included by, say Shakespeare) be added.

My Poems is an enjoyable way of listening to poetry, and I would recommend to anyone who has access to an Amazon Echo to give it a try.

Kevin

Of Book Signings and Ebooks

As an author, I derive great pleasure from providing family, friends and other readers with signed copies of my paperback books. Indeed, over the last week or so, I have mailed 3 copies of my recently released “Selected Poems”, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Selected-Poems-K-Morris/dp/1688049800, and furnished 3 signed copies to friends face-to-face.

In addition to my squashed spider of a signature, each book contains a personalised message. Its wonderful to receive the heartfelt messages of thanks and to know that a reader will have a physical copy of my “Selected Poems” on their bookshelves to enjoy for years to come.

Whilst I can not envisage the demise of physical books (either paperback or hardback) as many people, including me love to hold a real book in their hands, the growth in ebooks has driven the development of solutions enabling authors to sign electronic copies of their books. See, for example this article, https://selfpublishingadvice.org/book-marketing-tip-how-to-offer-signed-books-at-low-cost/.

I haven’t used Authorgraph (one of the solutions mentioned in the above article). However the ability to sign ebooks opens up new possibilities for both readers and authors. No longer does a UK author need to send a signed (physical) copy of his/her book halfway around the world by post, as he/she can sign an electronic book remotely. Of course many readers will, I feel sure still wish to own a signed (physical) copy of a book. However, for those who prefer ebooks, or others who can not aford the expense of postage and packaging, the ability to have an ebook signed by their favourite author can only be a good thing.

Kevin

Researchers Trained Computers To Write Poetry

Researchers have developed a bot capable of writing poetry. Having been fed a good deal of verse, the programme is, apparently capable of tricking humans and has come up with many poems, including the example below:

“With joyous gambols gay and still array
No longer when he twas, while in his day
At first to pass in all delightful ways
Around him, charming and of all his days”.

The New York Post describes the above as “not bad”. While I would agree that this sample of verse is interesting, I wouldn’t describe it as “not bad”. To me it reads rather like a computer programme had been fed the complete poetic works of the humorous poet Edward Lear and come up with this short poem. The verse is, for me also reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

Poetry is, in the final analysis an expression of human emotion, whether sadness, happiness, anger or a combination of various emotions. At present only humans can feel emotion (as opposed to being able to simulate it), so what the researches have created is a clever programme capable of soaking up the poetry produced by others and using its “knowledge”? to produce it’s own attempts at poetry. The programme is producing nothing original, although it has, admittedly knitted together the poetic cannon to produce some interesting results.

To read the article please follow this link, https://nypost.com/2018/08/08/researchers-trained-robots-to-write-poetry/.

My review of the Amazon Echo (Second Generation)

This review is of the Amazon Echo (Second Generation), which retails in the UK for £89.99 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Amazon-Echo-2nd-Generation-Heather-Grey-Fabric/dp/B0749YXKYZ).

I first used the Echo in late September while visiting family in Liverpool. I was so impressed with the technology that on my return to London I purchased my own Echo.

As a registered blind person I was drawn to the Echo as one can control the device by voice. I have, thus far had the Echo read titles from my Kindle library, search for (and play) samples from audible.co.uk, find and play music and carry out searches in response to questions posed by me.

In order to gain access to the widest range of music, I signed up for Amazon Music at a cost of £3.99 a month (the first 30 days being free with the ability to cancel, without charge within that time-frame). I’ve found the selection of music extremely varied and the fact that one can simply say “play “No Angel” by Dido) and the Echo does so is wonderful.

The sound quality in terms of music, Kindle and audio books is good, however for those who wish to further enhance their experience there is (I understand) a means of attaching an additional speaker.

The Echo’s ability to respond to questions is reasonable but, on balance I think that this is one of its weaker points. For example (as someone who is interested in politics) I asked it “what was the British Union of Fascists?” and Alexa read out a relevant snipet from the web. However on asking “what is the Socialist Worker’s Party?” Alexa provided information on the US-based far-left party (with no mention of the UK-based organisation). So anyone wishing to find out about the (UK-based) SWP would be better served by trusting to Google or another search engine.

Notwithstanding the above, asking questions such as “what is the weather in central London” will render an accurate result, as will questions such as “what is the capital of Germany?”

The Echo can control smart devices. However I have no such devices in my home, therefore I was unable to put the device through it’s paces here.

When purchasing an Echo, the user should be aware that all information is being sent through to Amazon’s servers. I looked back at my interactions with Alexa on the Amazon site and saw a record of all the questions I had posed to the device (although not the answers provided). One can delete this record. However there is a risk (as with any web based activity) of one’s interactions being intercepted (although this is no greater than the danger of one’s computer being hacked when using Google or another search engine).

I was able to sign up to Amazon Music by voice (without the need to enter my Amazon password as the device is already logged into my account). On the one hand this is extremely convenient as there is no need to log on to one’s computer etc. However anyone with children should, in my view seriously consider disabling this feature (there are many stories in the media of teenagers running up bills on smart devices due to their parents not having disabled or password protected the ability to make purchases without first having to enter security credentials).

All in all I highly recommend the Echo.

Kevin